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Texas program aims to prevent suicide and address mental health among police officers

PoliceSuicideReport_JW_1
Jacob Wells
/
KERA News
Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia speaks to reporters at UNT Dallas about the Texas Law Enforcement Peer Network on Sept. 9, 2022.

The state-funded Texas Law Enforcement Peer Network was created in 2021 by the state legislature.

Speaking at the UNT Dallas campus, Dallas Police Chief Eddie Garcia said the program signifies one of the most important cultural shifts he's seen in his 31 years of service as a police officer.

Garcia said when he started out as an officer, talking about mental health issues was taboo.

"You'd go through a traumatic incident... you start feeling a certain way and you told somebody, you'd be looked at and told 'you need to suck it up,'" Garcia said.

The program, which was created by the Texas legislature in 2021, was rolled out this past spring.

The program provides a variety of resources for officers to address their mental health, including an app called 'GreenLight Balance' that allows officers to find help anonymously.

Dustin Schellenger, the program’s director, says hundreds of officers have already signed up for the app.

"They may not need it today, they may not need it tomorrow, but in the course of their career. statistics, statistics show that they're going to need help at some point," Schellenger said.

He said at least 46 of those officers have used the app to find help.

“You show me a happy cop, one who's content at work one who's content at home and I will show you a happy community member," Garcia said. "A healthy officer is an effective and safe officer for our community.”

State Senator Royce West, who co-authored the bill that created the program, also spoke at the event which coincided with National Suicide Prevention Week.

“We want to make certain that issues concerning the mental health of officers is taken care of," West said. "We've witnessed too many times the toll a law enforcement career can take, not just on the officers themselves but on their families and home lives.”

Got a tip? Email Pablo Arauz Peña at parauzpena@kera.org

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Pablo Arauz Peña is the breaking news reporter for KERA News.